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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

One Size Does Not Fit All: The Promise of Progressive Profiling

According to Forrester, by 2014 the average consumer will receive 9,000 email marketing messages a year. How can marketers engage their audiences more effectively in such a crowded environment?
Currently, most marketers are already ignored—an email open rate of 20% and a conversion rate of 1% via email is considered above average. Consumers are so buried in communication from a variety of media that only the most relevant messages find a target. Revolutionized in recent years by the growth of cloud computing and coupled with falling costs, automation puts a lot of power in the hands of a marketer. But with great power comes great responsibility, and most marketers have used this power for volume and frequency instead of exploiting the opportunity for customization.
Mass customization continues to innovate in the digital world, and it’s found a receptive audience in consumers. An essential technique in custom communication is progressive profiling: the art of breaking down opt-in data into bite size pieces so that consumers can gradually, continually give companies profile information. Spurred by novel techniques in email and preference centers, progressive profiling shows vast promise in its ability to provide a platform for automated, personalized communication.
Recently, PossibleNow (in a joint research project with LadderingWorks) studied progressive profiling and the continuing influence of customization on user behavior and attitudes. We found that behavioral drivers are often subtle and largely transcend traditional demographics. For example:
  • Most internet behaviors are not directly related to demographics and are device/platform agnostic
  • Consumers expect greater control over their relationships with companies and brands
  • The decision to participate via opt-in surveys is based on perceived value
  • Capturing data via social sign-in (such as “Sign in with Facebook”) is rare and not generally trusted
  • Monitoring online behavior by a merchant is acceptable but can be perceived as creepy
  • Design and user experience is important in branding, data collection, and even in Preference Centers
We also found several personas emerging from our research. These clustered groups of personality profiles are likely to have different behavior patterns within progressive profiling, something that companies should strongly consider when developing data collection and analysis.

Naïve users vs. Aware users

Consumers fall into two distinct camps regarding the way they manage their inbox and the way they manage communication from merchants.  One group is highly proactive in their management of messaging: these users eliminate correspondence at the merchant site and keep their email inbox clutter to a minimum by carefully customizing merchant messaging at the settings or preferences level.

The other group takes a reactive approach to managing merchant e-mail by deleting or filing it when they receive the correspondence in their inbox.  The reactive group is much more open to quickly customizing their messaging via bite-sized modal dialogues instead of navigating a full-scale preference panel on a website. As users go from naïve to aware, they will likely become either value conscious or convenience focused (as explained below).

Value conscious users vs. Convenience users

The more that a user trusts the technology, the more likely they are to use that technology to make changes or adapt it to their lifestyle.  They don’t want anything to get in their way and prefer to customize the communication with a company on a detailed level if possible. Value conscious consumers sign up with merchants/shop online, because they want to receive discounts, coupons, offers of free shipping, etc. Convenience conscious consumers are driven by the ability to utilize technology to make life easier and will usually pay more for convenience.

Having a central facility to manage all touch points with the customer helps improve cross-channel marketing efforts and improves the likelihood that you’ll deliver the right message to the right channel. Advances in data acquisition and storage have made ubiquitous analysis available on a scale never imagined; when combined with progressive profiling, this development presents an enormous opportunity to derive not only data insights, but to apply those insights in a contextual manner.  Our forthcoming white paper will address many of the issues raised on this blog post in greater detail.

About the Author: 
John Davidson is a researcher at PossibleNOW.

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